Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On Break

So, I've had to return to the US early, literally getting a phone call and hopping on a flight a few hours later. Not to get into too many details, but my mom's condition worsened much faster than expected - it seemed like she was getting on okay - nauseous and with pain in her legs, but better than you might expect given her prognosis - and she passed away on the 12th, soon after I arrived.

So, this is a very hard holiday season for me (I'm spending it with my family - Brendan has just flown in) and blogging is just not on the radar.

Look for me after the holiday season when I'll probably throw a few updates on here - I have a few backlogged posts on hikes and our stay at the Evergreen Resort for a wedding we attended and I'll put them up in January.

It might not be a very happy holiday for me, but happy holidays to you!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Dear China: Taiwan's just not that into you.

LOL.

Yes, it was a rejection of Beijing, shown in the only way voters were able at this point. Because people are finally waking up to see how hard the Chinese government blows.

Dear China: Taiwan doesn't want to join you. They just don't. Some people do, but they're in the minority. Most...don't. Ever. Not. Ever. Evvveerrrr. They aren't going to give up on independence. THEY'RE JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. They want to trade with you as long as you respect them, but they will never agree to be a part of your country.

If they ever did - and they didn't, really, not most of them, not in their hearts - when they saw how you shat on Hong Kong, they backed that right up. 

Also, your governance is bad and you should feel bad.

You suck, Chinese government.

At the same time, what's up with the media always inserting China where it doesn't belong in stories about Taiwan? In the case of the most recent election, voter rejection of China is worthy of a side note in a story, but I'm not down with every story that should ostensibly be about Taiwan...being made about China. And it's the news media's fault: they're just not interested in stories about Taiwan that are actually about Taiwan. They are also bad and they should feel bad.

Here are a few reasons why they suck, culled from my Facebook feed because I see no reason to re-write what I've already written:

1.) My main complaint is that too many articles and posts make China the *center* of the story. It's perfectly possible to report the REAL story (i.e. what's happening in Taiwan, not China's reaction to it), with the China thing as asideshow or sidebar to that. You could even mention it in the title ("Taiwan Kicks Out Ruling Party in Regional Elections, China Not Happy") without making it the whole story ("China Reacts As Pro-China Party Decimated In Elections") (and I'm using decimate in the modern sense so shhh). That way media outlets get the clicks, but articles don't denigrate Taiwan, forcing it to be a sideshow to its own damn story.

2.) Other smaller countries don't get this treatment. I don't see why Taiwan always has to pass through the China needle when countries of similar size/population (S. Korea, Australia) or smaller population (New Zealand) don't. China has put Taiwan in a unique situation but that doesn't mean it alone should get singled out for the "you can't even have your own stories about yourself" treatment. 

3.) You know that what the media reports does shape worldviews. If the media always/only reports on Taiwan in relation to China, the world will believe that China's claim on Taiwan might actually be legitimate. It's misleading in a quiet, unprovable, but still critical way. If you report on Taiwan as Taiwan, then people get the (more accurate) impression that China's claim on it is not accurate and it is a sovereign state. This is why I complained so hard about the "China and Taiwan split in 1949" nonsense, because it leads casual readers to believe that Taiwan and China were united at all times prior to 1949 and that's just not true. Well, reporting on Taiwan with China as the central story makes China's reactions seem more important than they are. The whole point of this election's results is that the Taiwanese are showing they don't give a damn what China thinks, so it's kind of a slap in the face to then only report on what China thinks. 

4.) Since when is "good reporting" the same as "getting more clicks"? I want good reporting. I don't give a shit about how many clicks a story gets. I'm not a reporter, I know, but I'm not going to give up my desire for good reporting because "clicks". Fuck that noise. If an outlet doesn't give me good reporting, I won't read it and I won't respect it. Isn't aim #1 to provide good journalism? And if it's not, what's the point? 


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Conga conga conga...conga conga conga...

That was me after a glass of hot wine last night doing a one-woman conga around our Christmas tree thanks to the pounding, the slaughter, the stomping, the trouncing, the up-the-bumming, the spanking, the slapping down, the kicking to the curb, the killing, the decimation (used in its modern sense so shoosh), the machete-ing that the KMT took last night! Yippee!

They deserved it too. The Taiwanese did not need to prove that they're not idiots and don't like being treated as such or condescended to, but like the elevator at one of my workplaces, the KMT is a little slow on the uptake. 

Side note: they really are like the Republicans of Taiwan - they have policies that benefit the rich and well-connected, they don't care much about the middle and working classes let alone the poor, they're socially conservative (although this is not as much a problem with the KMT, the KMT's issue is just not giving a damn about women's or LGBT rights whereas the Republicans actively oppose the equality of both groups), they're in bed with some very bad people (though you could say the same for the Democrats so I'm not sure that one counts) and they rely on a horrific amount of propaganda to get their bitter pills swallowed. They think very poorly of anyone who is not rich, intellectually lazy or well-connected and especially not anyone of a different race (for Republicans that'd be white, for the KMT that'd be Han Chinese both ethnically and culturally), they try to smear opponents with "they're not patriotic" and "they don't understand foreign policy" nonsense, and they have shitty foreign policy. And even the Republicans have more high-profile women than the KMT. 

The voters sent a clear message: don't condescend to us. We won't take it. Don't tell us we're lazy and privileged, that we say we want change but we don't really, that the reason we don't like a policy is that we just "don't understand it", not because it's a bad policy. Don't act like you were born to rule us, and that we should just accept being lorded over by a bunch of kleptocrats. Don't treat us alternately like ignorant peasants or idiot children. And listen to us. Public opinion means something - just because we elected you before doesn't mean you're the emperors of this country. Listen to us, or get the fuck out.

The KMT didn't listen, and here we are. They're out. BUH BYE.

They're a party of intellectually lazy nepotists - "we MUST get closer to China because it's the ONLY WAY and we can't consider any other ways because it's the ONLY one and if you even think about other ways you JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND...and can we just forget that whole genocide thing we did and haven't really apologized or made reparations or fully released records for? Also vote for my son. He's an idiot with no clear policies, but vote for him anyway." - so I bet they're sitting around now not thinking about how they lost because they didn't do the one thing fundamental to getting elected in a real democracy - - listening to the people. They're either whipping Sean Lien in a back room somewhere and blaming this whole thing on him, or they're grousing about how they lost "because those ignorant Taiwanese farmers who have misguided nationalism as a result of DPP propaganda and don't understand the right and good and morally correct value of being Chinese, not Taiwanese, and they just don't understand our good and morally correct policies and platforms". 

Because that's exactly what they showed us in this last campaign. Today's youth are privileged and dumb. The Sunflowers were just a trendy thing for airheaded children. You say you want change, but you really don't. If you can't get a taxi you'll be so upset that you'll steal vegetables. The only political protest you're willing to stick with is liking or unliking something on Facebook. Listen to us, we know better than you. You hate Koreans, right? Here's an ad about how Korea will beat us. Since you don't really understand free trade agreements, just be racist and vote for us because you hate Koreans. Also, the only reason people argue about politics is that they don't all support the KMT. If we win people will stop arguing about politics because we are the only correct choice.

And yet they are probably wondering why they got spanked. Even Sean Lien said not "I'm sorry I wasn't a better candidate" but "I'm sorry I didn't try hard enough to win." You did try hard enough to win, Sean, it's just that you weren't a very good candidate and you didn't try to be. You didn't stop to think that maybe the citizens of Taipei are smarter than the KMT gives them credit for and they want good candidates. Jason Hu's people are probably thinking "Taichung residents are just spoiled and don't see that the BRT is simply ironing out some flaws", rather than "Jason Hu was a bad mayor and got what he deserved - he should have done a better job". 

And nationally they are probably not thinking "Even Eric Chu won by only a thin margin, maybe we should do better generally and appeal to public opinion, because he's not necessarily a safe candidate in 2016", but "Eric Chu won, let's run him, it'll be fine". Or "the people are genuinely unhappy with Ma Ying-jiu for some good reasons, perhaps he should change tactics and step down as chairman of the KMT, a position he should never have been allowed to retain in the first place". Instead they're probably thinking "well these were regional and local elections, they have no bearing on the presidency". Except they do, seeing as Jiang Yi-huah has resigned. GOOD RIDDANCE, but not good enough.

Of course, some news outlets got it all wrong. The Economist, as usual, is full of shit:

The polls on November 29th, for 11,130 mayors, councillors and town chiefs, saw big gains for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which has attacked the KMT’s efforts to forge closer economic ties with China.

Way to not be biased, jerks! "attacked the KMT's efforts"? I want to criticize this but it's so obviously subjective garbage that all I need to do is highlight it. Your reporters clearly missed the class on avoiding biased language.

The elections, being local ones, were more about such issues as urban development rather than relations with China. Candidates sought to win over voters with plans for building infrastructure and public housing. But the poll did reflect widespread dissatisfaction with Mr Ma’s handling of the economy, says George Tsai of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. Salaries have stagnated for years and there is a widespread belief that only Taiwan’s business elite is reaping the economic rewards of closer ties with China. (Mr Ma has signed 21 agreements with China, including a ground-breaking free-trade pact in 2010.) 

WRONG. The people of Taiwan are pissed off about relations with China - not so much that they're overly warm but that the KMT has bowed and scraped and given handjobs under the table to get these "warm relations". These elections were the only way that the people could show their unhappiness, as there were no national elections this year. So they showed it locally. This is a rejection of the KMT's let's-whore-out-Taiwan-to-China garbage, whether you want to believe it or not.

It's not even conspiracy-theory madness to say that China's strategy and end goal is to pull Taiwan into an inextricable vortex towards annexation...they've come right out and said it! And the KMT has gone along with it. Would you like another handjob, Mr. Xi? And it hasn't even helped the economy, except for a few very wealthy people who have benefited, and a few more jobs for Taiwanese that are in China - where few if any Taiwanese really want to live - not Taiwan.

And it's not "a widespread belief" that only the wealthy have benefited. You're making it sound like people believe something that's not necessarily true. But it is true. It's a belief, but it's a belief based in fact and it does you no favors as a credible news source to imply otherwise.

Also, "groundbreaking". Screw you and your biased language. Go suck a butt.


It will be even less convinced that Mr Ma will have the political strength to push for more measures to improve cross-strait ties before he steps down in 2016; there had been talk of setting up representative offices in each other’s territory as well as greater liberalisation of cross-strait trade. The DPP’s strengthened popularity might cause some KMT lawmakers to become more lukewarm in their support for these projects (early in 2016 they will be up for re-election too). The coming year will be a tense one in Taiwan’s politics.

Blah blah blah free trade is great we all love it and take it as a given that it is good and right and necessary and there can be no other way and it must be with China and this is always a good thing under any circumstances blah blah blah. Intellectually lazy garbage full of all sorts of biased language (relations have only "improved" if you think Ma's efforts have been good for Taiwan. I happen to think they have not).

All in all, I do think the DPP will do better than the KMT, because they, for all their many, many (many) faults, actually listen to the people, and the people deserve to be listened to. Plus, it'd be hard to do worse than the KMT.

Of course China will blow its wad - I look forward to reading about that, anything that angers and frustrates the Chinese government makes me want to get up and re-start that conga line - and of course The Economist and other crappy news sources are going to say it's the DPP's fault, that they're not good at governance, that they're "troublemakers", when China's the real troublemaker. The DPP isn't anti-China (anym0re). They're in favor of respectful dialogue with China - that is, dialogue in which Taiwan's sovereignty is respected. If China can't manage even that, they are the problem, not Taiwan and not the DPP.

The people of Taiwan understand that. I wonder when The Economist (and the US government) will. 

In the end, I know this is not the end of the KMT (too bad). I'm not against changing parties every few years, but I'd like to see a more pluralistic system, and I'd like to see a better party than the KMT challenge the DPP. It's good and healthy for parties to change up every few years, even if you like - or at least don't hate - the party that's just been swept into power. In a few years these headlines will switch around, I'm sure. And that's good - it keeps politicians on their toes. Forces them to work harder and be better (a lesson the KMT did not learn, it seems...let's see if my predictions of their reactions are accurate or if they finally get with the program and start treating the voters, especially the youth, with respect). I just wish the opposition was better than the KMT is (I feel the same way about Republicans - the Democrats need to be kept on their toes or they grow complacent and non-transparent as well - but can't we have a party less odious than Republicans?). 

The KMT ran Taiwan like its own personal fiefdom/treasure chest/gift to China for 6 years, with 2 or so remaining in the presidency. So I hope the DPP gets a crack at running things at least till 2020 or 2024. 

Then we can talk about changing up the guard a little, perhaps with another party that can challenge the DPP and do a better job than the KMT, and without a history of dictatorship and genocide. 

Today, we celebrate.

Tomorrow, we build a better Taiwan. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The KMT reacts to recent poll numbers (photo)

I don't have much time to post these days, between just finishing up the Delta and preparing to go home for an extended period.

But I thought I'd share a photo from KMT central campaign headquarters late last week when they finally realized the people were sick of their bullshit:

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As one friend noted, "Journey to Reclaim the West was NOT going well."

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Some American Things Are Good (...but only some)

Awhile ago, I wrote a draft blog post about reasons why I'd never move back to the USA. It had stuff on it like "the pervasive gun culture makes me feel unsafe, as much as gun owners yammer on about how it's perfectly safe. Sorry, it's not" and "I LIKE HEALTH INSURANCE and America still sucks for that".

I never published it, having an inkling that something was up with my mom's health and that I may in fact have to move back for awhile - - and lo and behold (and unfortunately), I was right. I didn't want to look at my indefinite move home in a negative light: I wanted, and still want, to think of it in the most positive terms possible even though deep down I don't really want to leave Taipei for that long, at least not for the Hudson Valley (leaving Taipei for a year for an exciting destination like London or Hong Kong would be different) and without Brendan.

Please don't mistake this as not wanting to go home. I am thrilled that I can do this for my mom, and I truly want to be there. But let's be clear: that's for her. The region I'm moving to? Eh. Away from my husband for a year? WAAH.

That said, in wanting to think of this positively, I've compiled a list of reasons why moving back to the USA won't be so bad. Maybe someday I'll publish my more negative list, but not now.

1.) It will be a break from work and something new

I've never lived in the Hudson Valley as an adult, so that will be an experience. And there are college towns and antiquing days (I know, I'm a New York yuppie without the money or the address) and vineyards and hikes and such. And everyone needs a break from work, even when you love your work. That said, I'll be continuing many of my private lessons online. So it won't be so much a break from work as "something new".

2.) Seasons!

I'm not excited about the return of the Polar Vortex (I'm psychologically allergic to cold, which is one reason I moved away), but I am excited about things we don't get in Taipei, like fall foliage (if I'm there long enough), big fluffy sweaters, snow and distinct seasonal changes.

3.) Food

I can get almost everything I want in Taipei, but it will be nice go to back to affordable good cheese, a variety of olives, well-cooked Western food that I didn't make myself or get at Whalen's or Zoca, and a full-size oven. It will be nice to take trips to New York City and DC for food I can't get in Taipei, like South Indian (which I actually can get, but only at one place) and Ethiopian. I'm definitely not complaining about that.

4.) Access to friends

I do miss my friends back in the USA - I have maintained those relationships by visiting once a year, but it will be good to have the chance to hop on a bus or train to go see them a little more frequently (I have just one friend in the Hudson Valley, but I have many more in New York, Boston and DC).

5.) Crappy TV

Taiwan definitely has this, but it's a different sort of TV. One of my darkest secrets (okay not really) is that I have a morbid fascination with shit-tacular television. Think pap-smeared "and today Ellie Goldilocks will be teaching us how to use paper clips - yes, paper clips! - to make perfect Christmas bows. And then, Crumbles the Chimp will talk about his upcoming memoir, 'A Chimp's Life'" - morning shows, horrible reality shows in which eating-disordered women fight to marry a guy they don't even know, local news...you can't get this crap in Taiwan and yet I find it so deeply, well, "entertaining" isn't the word, maybe masochistic schadenfreude-sort-of-entertaining?

6.) Clothes that fit!

Even when I go to plus size stores in Taipei (something I don't actually have to do in the USA, but here I'm like a giantess), nothing fits. It's all made for women less curvy and shorter than me: think older Taiwanese women. Forget underclothes. Just forget them. At least in the US I can shop in regular stores and buy things that fit in more flattering styles, patterns and fabrics.

7.) Being able to deal with things without time zones or international charges

You know who is not very friendly to expats? Student loan organizations. Just try paying them back from abroad: it's almost impossible to get ahold of mine internationally (it can be done but I am usually on hold so long that I give up), and they won't accept payments from foreign bank accounts so I have to send money home frequently. It's a pain in the butt, and other institutions are not much different (just try getting something that needs to be notarized by an American notary to the USA, or getting people to send your mail to the right place, or dealing with anything where they ask you to fax something, which still happens, surprisingly). It will be nice to be able to take care of that stuff from within the USA and without the pressure of time.

8.) Having at least some not-outdated knowledge of American pop culture. 

You know when I found out 'basic' was a thing? Like two weeks ago, after it was brought back into cultural consciousness. Not that I am a better person for knowing what it is, but I find out about everything like six months after it's passe. Which is OK, I don't need to be on-trend, but I at least like to know what trends I'm ignoring!

And yes, I am kind of basic, except not. I do like crap TV and flavored lattes after all.

* * *

Well, that's about it.

Only 8 things.

Better than none, right?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Running for office wearing a "fuck the government" t-shirt? I'll vote for you.

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It's a little hard to see in this photo, but I got these free tissues the other day advertising the candidacy of Ouyang Ruilian (歐陽瑞蓮) for city council, and she's totally wearing a black Sunflower-protest inspired "FUCK THE GOVERNMENT" t-shirt (if I remember correctly the Chinese on the t-shirts was not as in-your face as the English). Anyone who has the balls to run for a seat in the government while wearing a "fuck the government" t-shirt basically has my vote. I like a little cynicism in my candidates.

Or at least, would have my vote if I could vote. Probably. If I actually could vote I might first make sure she stood for the initiatives and policies I support. They're right there on the back of the tissues. She's against ECFA, she's against using school curricula to "brainwash" (her words) students (if you haven't heard about the uproar over changing the national educational curriculum to imply that Taiwan has more historic links to China and fewer to Japan than it actually does, you should look into it). She's broadly aligned with "the youth". So far I like her.

Either way I'd like to see pretty much any party that is not pan-blue aligned get more representation in Taipei and Taiwan generally, so I'd probably vote for her anyway.

Not that she's going to get that many votes. City councilmembers don't need many and  more than one can be elected per region, so who knows? She may be in.

The front of the ad is just as good:

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Two things I love about this:

1.) She's going for a very specific demographic - the Sunflower-supporting kids and grandkids of old dark-blue 'waishengren' (Nationalists who came to Taiwan from China in '49). You can tell by the t-shirt on the other side coupled with the photo of her at a protest, along with the "我是外省二代/支持台灣獨立": "I'm second-generation waishengren/I support Taiwan independence". There's no way any of the older folks in Da'an and Wenshan would vote for her - they regularly tug the lever for the KMT, who seem to consider it a failure if one of their candidates in this part of the city gets less than 60% of the vote. But their kids...hmm. Their kids just might, especially given events earlier this year. She's aiming to be the voice of the children of the old KMT guard who think their parents' and grandparents' politics are crusty and outdated. (Sort of like how one of my grandmas likes to say 'we are a CONSERVATIVE FAMILY' and yet you will never catch me voting for a modern-day Republican).

2.) I love that she's dressed this way too. It shows how different Taiwanese and American political discourse is. When Tsai Ying-wen was on the campaign trail we got this (scroll down), where she's backed by a pink billboard and hearts. Not to mention two candidates in that post who posed with adorable animals, including a fluffy dog in a baby stroller. The Taiwan equivalent of kissing babies?

Anyway, I couldn't imagine a female candidate, especially a younger one, wearing this in an ad or on the trail. She'd be laughed at as 'not serious' or have all sorts of sexist jokes ("Candidate Barbie!") lobbed at her. Both parties get it in the USA - Sarah Palin deserved to get made fun of for being a total freakin' idiot, but instead we all analyzed her clothes for some reason. And with Hillary it just won't stop. If she dresses too manly, she's 'not a real woman' and if she dresses too womanly, she's 'not serious'. Nevermind the problems inherent in assuming that 'womanly' = 'not serious' and that the default is 'manly' for anything anyone takes seriously or, ahem, pays a fair salary for.

In Taiwan, you can wear a pink jacket and frilly blouse, and while you may not get a lot of votes because you're a TSU candidate in two districts that are a perennial lock-up for the KMT, you won't lose those votes because you dared to wear pink, or ruffles.

In that way, I fear more for the future of the USA vis-a-vis women's rights than Taiwan. In Taiwan you can wear frilly pink clothes and win an election (it doesn't hurt to have a bobblehead cartoon of yourself giving a peace sign while you hold an adorable kitten, either). In the USA, I'm not convinced you could.

That said, in other news, this:



Jesus Christ.

I have nothing more to say about it.

And just when I was feeling pretty good about the gender gap in Taiwan...dammit.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Queens of Kingston

I figure I'll say this now, so I won't have to worry about it later.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about choosing to stay abroad, as an expat with an established life, despite my mother's battle with cancer (endometrial that, despite a hysterectomy, spread to her lung over a decade later). I can't find that post now, but when I do, I'll link it. With a prognosis of "we have many treatments and it could be several years", it made sense to stay, and to prioritize visiting at least once a year, if not always at the same time of year.

Well, that's changed. The treatments were all successful - for a time. She had proton therapy, and it took care of the cancer in her lung. She felt great. We all were high with hope that she'd be around for another decade or more.

But it came back - this time in her lymphatic system. All treatments with a hope of remission have been exhausted, now there's only palliative/stabilizing treatment. Is there an outside chance it could truly stabilize? Sure. Is it likely? Well...

Anyway the prognosis is "about a year" - maybe a little more, maybe a little...less.

So, I've made the choice to move home. Not permanently, but still, I'm going to have to find work etc. and get used to life in the Hudson Valley. I'll probably end up working in Poughkeepsie, Kingston, White Plains...who knows. I'm going to leave just before Christmas.

At least, everyone else seems to think it's a choice. I have a husband, a career, an apartment and two cats in Taipei: I suppose theoretically I could have made the decision to stay and just visit. But I don't see how that's a viable option - moving home is the best of a raft of choices made under terrible circumstances.

Brendan will stay in Taipei and look after the apartment and cats - he'll probably get a roommate for our lovely, but tiny (and yet surprisingly outfitted with storage) guest room to help with rent. So, uh, if you know someone who needs a furnished room, especially if they don't want to stay very long term but are here to study Chinese or something, send 'em our way.

I'll be back...whenever I'm back. Between the cats, the apartment and the double unemployment, I don't see how we can both make the move right now, when we intend to continue our life in Taipei. We'll try to figure out a way for him to visit a few times, although it's going to be hard, as we're basically draining our savings to send me home, right at a very inopportune time. Well. We started from scratch after Turkey (we needed to take that trip - not only for my lifelong dream of going to my ancestral homeland on Musa Dagh but also to get our CELTA certificates). We can do it again. If there is one thing we are both good at doing, it's finding and pressing the reset button.

My sister will also be moving home - who knows for how long.

So what about me? And, for the purposes of this post, what about any settled expat who finds themselves in this situation?

Well, I find it really helps to:

1.) Look at the one more-or-less good thing to come out of the whole nightmare. If you have more than one thing, great. For me, it's that rather than a hellish surprise, we have a "prognosis". What that prognosis is is a sign saying, "this is literally the worst thing ever, but you get to know in advance so you can spend time with your loved one". At least I have this year. A tragedy like a car accident is horrible in that you just don't know - you'll never know when you say goodbye if that's the last time you'll ever see that person. A prognosis means that you have the time to make a decision and to make the most of the time. I'd much rather that than a phone call in the middle of the night.

2.) Own your decision. I am not doing this for work, and I'm certainly not doing it for my marriage (although that is strong - very strong, probably one of the strongest ones you might come across. If there's one thing I have 110% faith in, it's that Brendan and I will be okay). I have to put my education on hold. My sister and I are doing this so that we can treat our mom like a queen for the next few months, and have family time we would not have otherwise gotten. Knowing that, when I say "own your decision", I really mean it. My job prospects are better in New York, where I could easily get a job in a language center. I wouldn't be any sort of New York elite but I could live on that. But what "own your decision" means isn't "decamp for New York City because the Hudson Valley has terrible job prospects for my qualifications, and I don't want to work in Kingston anyhow", but "I'm doing this for my mom, so I need to be near my mom". And that means the Hudson Valley if at all possible - not New York. That means living at home if I can. If I have to wait tables or scrub floors, I will (although it is a truly unfortunate restauranteur who hires me to wait tables - I'm a terrible waitress). You can't half-ass something like this. To quote the ever-quotable Simpsons, you've got to use your whole ass.

3.) Don't overthink it. It is not possible to "do the math" and think of an optimal time to come home, because that's not how prognoses work. You just have to pick a time and do it, and not think too much about the variables, because you can't predict them. You can't predict if it'll be 8 months or 2 years. You can't predict exactly what kind of work you're going to do or how you're going to get there (my biggest worry is transportation - I'm not a confident driver and we don't have an extra car anyhow. My sister is going to try to source one, and we're going to do our best to carpool). You can't know exactly how much money you'll need - you just have to do what you can and figure out what's possible from the options life hurls at you at any time. I'm lucky - I know my family will give me a roof over my head and food in my stomach, and that my sister and I will stick together through this - which mostly involves my making sure she is financially okay, and her making sure I have transportation as I'm not a confident driver. Not everyone is so lucky, but it really is about accepting a level of ambiguity in how the future will play out, and being ready to re-evaluate at any time from the options at hand.

4.) Don't expect much. This is an offshoot of "don't overthink it". Life hasn't handed you the option of finding a job you like near your family that will allow you to save money, until it does, if it does. It hasn't handed you a graduate school scholarship, nor has it handed you (okay, me) tuition for Delta Module 2 in New York. So it's unproductive to expect that those things will fall from the sky for you, or that you are entitled to them (if someone reading this is ever in my situation, you probably aren't that concerned about Delta Module 2, but I am). As above - if your priority is your loved one, then own that, and everything else can be compromised on.

So, what else?

Well, I will be back. Don't give up on my little blog just yet.

In order to keep some sense of normalcy until I go, I'll keep doing what I usually do, so you can expect updates here.

I'll occasionally blog while I am away, but it might be largely quiet. I do want to maintain some sort of connection to Taiwan.

And, does anyone know where I can confirm for absolute certain that I can leave Taiwan for up to 5 years without losing my APRC? It used to be 6 months. I need to know, as I may well be gone for more than 6 months (I would be heartbroken to be away from Brendan, but overjoyed at getting more time with my mom if so - with emotions like that, it's hard to feel anything other than numb).

Oh yeah, and:

5.) Know that you are making the right decision. If you're an expat with a terminally ill close family member or loved one, what would you regret more: spending the time you have with that person, creating lots of memories, or staying abroad, knowing you may only see them once more, if ever again? Most likely you'll regret the latter more than the former. You could make an argument for staying - I think a lot of people with families, even if they don't have children, might - but, hey, I don't know about you, but I know I'd regret not going.

Oh, hey, and if anyone knows of any good ESL teaching jobs in the Hudson Valley, send 'em my way.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Confucius Institute vs. British Council THROWDOWN

Some thoughts on the "I'm not defensive, YOU'RE DEFENSIVE! You don't understand our 5000 years of Chinese culture" reactions in this article: US Universities End Confucius Institutes, Chinese Reactions

1.) "You just don't understand Chinese culture" is a surefire sign that you're looking to guilt others into not pointing out your agenda. It's a sign of guilt, not a defense of innocence (in that way it's not so different from "I'm not racist, some of my best friends are ______"). 

2.) American movies may contain American cultural characteristics but that's not the same as purposefully crafted and disseminated propaganda. And it's stupid to imply that American cultural products never criticize or show America in a bad light.


3.) Sure, the BC and Alliance Francaise exist, but they don't disseminate Western cultural propaganda. You can tell the difference between "promoting culture" and "propaganda" this way: if a political party with an ideology is solely in charge of determining the content of such an institute's promotion, it's propaganda. If many different voices are heard from various parties in determining the content, it's probably not.


4.) "Harmony in diversity" MY ASS. Try telling the Tibetans that.


5.) Another way you can tell the difference between cultural promotion and propaganda is this: go to BC or wherever and ask them about unflattering/bad events in British history. The person you talk to will, while not openly denigrating Britain, will probably be honest with you about what happened and why it was wrong. Go to a Confucius Institute and ask a Chinese teacher about Taiwan or Falun Gong and see the stone-face you get.

6.) As a friend pointed out, Confucius Institutes exist within schools and universities, which are meant to be bastions of academic freedom - so when a government puts limits on what can be said in an entity within such a space, it's a big fat problem - it denigrates academic freedom to not be able to discuss certain topics. British Council and Alliance Francaise exist as independent institutions, and are not affiliated with schools and universities. That right there is a big problem. If the Chinese government wanted to open schools abroad in the same way, through legal means, and insisted that teachers hew to CCP propaganda within them, while Westerners would criticize that, they would be able to do so. If you didn't like it, you wouldn't have to take a class there. You could...enroll in a class at a local university! Whereas with Confucius Institutes in universities, often if you want to study Chinese, you have to go through them. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why I Like Taxis in Taiwan

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Mr. Lin's Kung Fu Action Movie Pimp Taxi!

So, all I tend to hear from other expats is - the fact that taxis in Taiwan (at least in the cities) are cheap by Western standards, convenient and ubiquitous notwithstanding - mocking of taxi drivers, or a litany of complaints detailing why they dislike them. They play annoying music, they take routes that cost more money, they are terrible or unsafe drivers, they smell. Lucy even shot one for not speaking English!

From Taiwanese, I often just hear that a.) taxi drivers are often ex-convicts who couldn't get another job, or b.) you shouldn't trust them, especially if you're a lone woman, especially late at night. Or I hear from both that they are unsafe drivers.

Okay. They can be very unsafe drivers and sometimes the taxis have a bit of an unwashed-body twang to them. I'll give you that.

But I like them. I really do. Urban Taiwan is Urban Taiwan in part because of the taxis, which I use as a stopgap between not owning (and not wanting to own) my own transportation, and public transportation. If I need to go somewhere that would be far easier to get to in a car, I take a taxi. I treat it like my own on-call Zipcar-with-driver service.

To wit:
  • A part of why I like them is that it's one more way in which Taipei has freed me from having to drive, which I don't enjoy. I don't mind it in rural areas or on quiet suburban roads, but city driving, or even built-up suburb driving, drives me up a wall (pun intended). Open-access highways are the worst, but narrow city streets, many of which are one-way, with difficult-to-navigate "turn only" or "no it's the next turn, but now you're in this lane so you have to turn" roads, are only narrowly the second-worst, and massive highways full of passing cars and "quick get over a lane, our exit is coming" or "the on-ramp lane is about to end - merge! merge!" highways are just as bad. Basically if it involves driving around other drivers, I hate it. So taxis are automatically better than Zipcars because in one, I don't have to drive. So having my own on-call taxi service, that is, one I can actually afford (ever taken a taxi even in an urban area in the USA? There's a reason why locals generally don't and it involves their wallet) is one of the best things about Taipei life. 
  • They tend to be chatty, and I'm chatty. With a little effort you can get them off the usual "how long have you been in Taiwan? You speak such good Chinese. Where are you from?" track and onto more interesting topics. They tend to be pretty open with their opinions, too, so it's not hard generally to hear their opinions on sensitive issues, including political issues. They tend to lean a certain way politically so their opinions are not varied, but they are usually very entertainingly given. It's great for learning new ways to insult Ma Ying-jiu. I have had some fascinating conversations in taxis, and gotten good recommendations to boot.
  • You get some very interesting decorations. Taxi Chic that I love includes dashboards that have been turned into, basically, little temples with swinging amulets and idols and bronze Buddhas and occasionally actual incense, or the Pimp Taxi as above, or Nightclub Taxi with the purple LEDs along the floor, or Macrame Taxi with the wooden bead seat covers. And the best one of all - the time I took a taxi where the guy had covered the entire inside - I don't just mean the dashboard or something, I mean the inside doors, the backs of seats, the ceiling, everything - in the semi-transparent plastic tops from soft drink takeaway cups, which were layered over LEDs connected to a self-rigged power source (which couldn't have been safe...) that blinked in random patterns. The windows and other glass surfaces, except for ones he needed to see out of -  were decorated with carefully layered brown duct tape and clear packing tape in Mondrian-reminsicent geometrical art shapes. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  • I can't speak for safety statistics overall, but I have never felt in danger from a taxi driver in Taiwan. Once, I left my purse (which had my passport in it as well as my wallet and other important items) in a taxi. Someone helped me call the broadcast station that would reach taxi drivers. By the next day, my purse was turned in to the police, and I could go down to the central station and pick it up. Everything was there, including the cash. Another time, Brendan left his phone in a taxi, the day before we were to leave for Shanghai and then the USA. We called him and he eventually was able to get back to us. Through a friend's help (as we were out of the country), the phone returned before we did. 
  • It is probably true that a high proportion of taxi drivers are ex-cons or other people who've been shafted by society. But, hey, they're working a job to earn money rather than resorting (or re-resorting) to petty crime to get by. Whatever they did before, what they are doing now is legit and they don't deserve to get made fun of for that.
  • I actually kind of like schmaltzy Taiwanese language pop from the mid-twentieth century. I don't listen to it at home or for fun (although 流浪到淡水 is on my playlist - I'm trying to learn it for KTV) but I enjoy it when it's around. I don't get a lot of exposure to Taiwanese - a language I am trying through slow osmosis to pick up, to some degree - in Taipei. So I'm grateful for what I do get.
So, come on, although I won't deny that they disobey traffic laws and their cars are fairly likely to smell (I've heard a lot are actually homeless and sleep in their taxis at night the way a lot of rickshaw drivers do in other countries), let's give Taiwanese taxi drivers a break. 

Anyway, I like 'em. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

You Know You've Lived in Taiwan Too Long When...

...from a dare issued by Taiwan Explorer to match or surpass this post (which are personal thoughts, no judgement here).

DARE ACCEPTED.

You know you've lived in Taiwan too long when...

1.) You think of mayonnaise as a normal salad dressing. The salad contains corn, peaches, raisins and shrimp.

2.) You go to a 7-11 in your home country in your PJs, buy a can of beer, open it and drink it in the store, then try to take a nap in the store after asking if they received the package your friend sent you, and you are shocked - SHOCKED! - when the police show up.

3.) You just do. not. even. when your friends in your home country tell you that "street soda" (eg. drinking a beer as you loiter on the street) is actually illegal. HOW CAN THEY LIVE IN SUCH A DICTATORSHIP.

4.) You take universal health insurance for granted.

5.) When thinking about local political candidates, before you can make a decision on who you support, you need to know what their bubble-head cartoon avatar looks like.

6.) You have an entire closetful of protest gear: a red shirt, a "Taiwan Independence!" flag, a 火大 towel, several headbands, a fake sunflower, a sticker that says "I don't need sex, because President Ma fucks me every day!"...
























7.) You tried to improve your listening comprehension by watching the Taiwanese news, but first you realize that the video playing has nothing to do with what they're discussing and it's messing with your schemata. Also your local friends tell you not to bother.

8.) You never buy tissues because you get them for free.

9.) When visiting home: "what do you mean I can't get a massage? It's only 10pm! There's got to be a blind guy who's still giving massages!"

10.) You have at least one buxiban horror story...even if you never worked at a buxiban (friends' stories count). Did I tell you about the time my boss told my coworker that she shouldn't date the guy who works in the tea shop downstairs because "you have so many corporate clients - why get a stone when you can get a diamond?"

11.) You now understand that nightlife options include bars, nightclubs, shopping for cell phone covers, karaoke, 7-11 and shrimp fishing.

12.) "I'm sorry I can't come, my grandma wants to have dinner" is now an acceptable reason to cancel on someone 3 hours before an event.

13.) When you hear about a fight breaking out in the Legislative Yuan, you launch into a story about what happened the last time a fight broke out in the Legislative Yuan.

14.) You have done at least one thing you would never, ever tell your parents back home. Because I love you, I will tell you mine. We (not my idea, but I was in on it) hired a stripper for my sister for her birthday. We took her to a KTV and he came out dressed like a police officer (not in the uniform that it's illegal to wear but like a traffic cop jacket) and we were all "There's someone you need to talk to...it's the...POLICE!"

But don't tell our parents.

15.) You have taken at least one trip to the countryside, randomly met some locals, and they invited you along on some adventure and you went, and it was the coolest thing ever and one of your best memories, and you never even learned their given names, but you think of them as basically your most awesome friends.

16.) It would not shock you at all to take one of the following taxis:
- inside covered completely in traditional Chinese fabric
- so much religious stuff on the dashboard that he basically has his own portable temple
- two words: pet goat
- one armed driver
- guy who spends the entire ride with his hands off the wheel ranting about how much he hates the president
- guy who covered the entire inside of his taxi with the tops of to-go soft drink cups layered over hand-wired LED displays blinking softly through the plastic (I'm not making that up)



















17.) You live in Taipei, and someone from back home or in another city mentioned how they drove somewhere and you're all "Drive? What is...drive?"

18.) At least once, someone's been all "do you want to eat this duck tongue?" and you've been all "YES SIR!".

19.) You ask your students where they went on the weekend and the majority answer "I slept and I watched TV" although you know that can't be true because if everyone sleeps and watches TV all weekend, then why are all the tourist destinations so crowded?

The rest answer "Costco", and that makes sense.

20.) At least once, you have found out that some little town in, I dunno, Miaoli County is famous for this one agricultural product or food that is only in season for a few weeks a year, and the best of that product is found on one hill outside of town, and that one hill has one restaurant or farm that makes/grows it the best, and it's at its absolute best one weekend out of the year which everyone seems to know telepathically or something, and you actually go to that town at that time of year, with the rest of Taiwan, and you all stuff your face with it, and then you go home.

For us it was strawberries in Dahu.

21.) "Paisei" (排謝) is now your word for everything.
"I'm going to be late for work - paisei."
"I need to get out of this elevator - paisei!"
"Your Chinese isn't very good, actually." "PAISEI...asshole."
"No, you can't take my taxi, I'm waiting for someone who reserved." "Oh, paisei."
*bump* "Paisei, paisei!"
"Your homework for this weekend is..." "Awwww, teacher, no!" "Paisei! But you have to do homework!"
Back home in a Chinese restaurant: "Hey, you live in Taiwan. Can you read that calligraphy?" "No, that's some Wild Grass Ming Dynasty stuff." "Oh, I thought you spoke Chinese." "PAISEI."

22.) When you say "this restaurant/cab/dentist's office looks like something out of a kung fu movie", you mean it as a compliment.

23.) You now have "guanxi" (關係) and you understand what that means. Your life suddenly starts running very smoothly and you will never, ever do anything to screw that up even if you are really pissed off about something.

24.) You started out thinking "man, Taiwan is so far away from everything, you can't even get good whiskey here, just that Suntory crap" (or insert your imported product of choice here) but now will spend an hour talking to your student or local friend about good whiskey (or whatever) and the many places in Taiwan to get it. You once were blind but now you see.

25.) It is completely not weird to you that you use the post office like a bank and the 7-11 like a post office.

26.) Speaking of 7-11, you now understand it as less a store and more a lifestyle. You consider it an extension of your own house and regularly go in your PJs (and are not the worst-dressed person there). After buying what you want, you go back to that part of your house where you can not buy items for sale...i.e., your actual house.

27.) Your friends back home are all "I had to work overtime three times last month, the boss made us stay until 8pm, my boss is so mean" and you're all...
















28.) You start to get the local jokes. Like, apparently there is a real guy whose name is Yang Gan-ning (I won't write it in Chinese just in case he Googles it and finds this blog - he's real) and at his company they usually introduce presenters firstname-lastname in the Western fashion, so they introduce him as "Gan-ning Yang". That is HILARIOUS to you, but all your friends who don't speak 台灣國語 don't get it at all.

29.) You seriously consider getting a tiny dog, naming it Doo-Doo, and carrying it around in a handbag, regardless of your gender.

30.) Pole dancing for the gods at temple festivals doesn't shock you at all. In fact, if you go to a temple festival and there's no guy hitting himself with a spiked club or pole dancers gyrating on Jeeps driving around town entertaining men, women, children, grandparents, priests, office workers & everyone else, you think that festival was "a little disappointing".

31.) This 'food truck' thing you've heard about back home sounds great, but you just can't get excited about it. As far as you're concerned, if it doesn't have a name like "East Mountain Duck Heads", "WOW! Frog Eggs!" or "Pig Miscellaneous Soup", it ain't shit. Also, does Portland or Brooklyn have a Beijing Duck Truck? Not yet? Well they suck.

(Actually, apparently these do exist in the USA, but the top result seems to be Los Angeles and you have to drive if you live in Los Angeles so it doesn't count).














Borrowed from here



32.) BOBBLEHEAD DICTATORS

I wanted to just link but the photo doesn't appear on the page...so here ya go:
















33.) Your friends back home - when they finally figure out that Taiwan is neither Thailand nor is it in China - say something like "it must be so hard living in a country where they...treat women like that. Do they still force them into arranged child marriages and make them abort female fetuses after scrubbing floors all day?" and you're all, "bro, no. We've got a long way to go, for sure, but actually of every finance or investment company I've done training courses at, the General Manager has been female. And if not the GM, some other executive, usually the CFO. Women tend to run the household budgets even if they don't work, although many do, and of those, many do so because they want to and have highly professional jobs. A lot of women are choosing not to marry. Although there are issues with reporting and room for laws to be strengthened and better-enforced, there are a whole bevy of more-or-less effective laws that encourage gender equality. Taiwanese women have paid maternity leave, which is not something American women can say, and we almost elected a female president, whereas the US hasn't even managed to run a female candidate in the big race!"

34.) You've nearly been killed at least once by some jerk on a scooter passing a stopped bus on the right just as you were disembarking. You, uh, may or may not have thrown your water bottle at him, and called him a "douchewad".

35.) You've long since stopped trying to translate your favorite foods into English - because 油條 are delicious, but "grease sticks" are not.

BONUS!

36.) You come to understand that Chinese is an elegant, ancient language steeped in history, culture and proud tradition...

...and that it sucks, because you can't express many strong emotions in it, as it was standardized as a formal lingua franca for the linguistically fractured Chinese nation.

And you started out thinking that all those dorky tech guys in glasses who worked at, I dunno, Advance-Teck Industries Ltd. Hukou Branch were total wet blankets, until you found out that actually they're the best language resource there is to learn how to say what you really want to express in a language far better suited for it...Taiwanese (and that they aren't wet blankets at all).

Then you find out that there are actually a lot of great things you can say in Chinese if you start utilizing plays on words (who knew that if you deployed "chrysanthemum tea" correctly, that it could be taken to mean "anal juice", as in "that fifty-cent government shill is drinking Xi Jinping's chrysanthemum tea"?), and now you may well have the most colorful vocabulary in Greater China.

...or maybe that's just me.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Today's Rally: Pass The Damn Marriage Equality Bill Already!

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Or as I call it, the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Freedom, because it's really insane that this bill has been purposely delayed for so long, and insane-r that its homophobic detractors changed the language to allow three-way marriages, group marriages etc. in the hopes that that would kill the bill (assholes).

Especially when more than half of Taiwanese citizens support marriage equality.

So, LGBT rights activists, getting louder by the day in Taiwan, are getting fed up and starting to push for change.

And it's a good thing too. If Taiwan passes marriage equality, it will be the first country in Asia to do so. It will be a true thought leader, a truly modern and progressive society. (No, I don't believe it is possible to have a modern society without equal rights and that includes marriage equality). It will set itself apart in all the best ways. It will be a beacon of conscience in a sea of homophobia (not that the West doesn't have plenty of that too, of course). It will stand apart. Taiwan can, should...nay, must do this.

With Pride coming up on October 25th, this smaller rally had a more specific goal than "we're proud!" - it was to urge legislators to stop sitting on their hands and pass the damn bill already (it would be great if it didn't have all that 'group marriage' language in it, but I care so little about that that it doesn't change my opinion that the bill must be passed). The people support it. You know it's the right thing to do. You probably don't have any Bible-fundie "but it's my reliiiiiiigion to be homophobic, how dare you call me a bigot, God told me to think this way!" objections, so pass it.

I would estimate attendance was in the thousands - maybe not 10,000 as organizers had hoped, but pretty good for a small, poorly publicized (at least I only heard of it through a friend) rally aimed at the passage of a specific bill that, while the issue has broad support, is just not a "bring out the crowds" issue the way it is in the USA.

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One thing the protestors did was put symbolic locks on the gate of the Legislative Yuan, to symbolize one's conscience being locked by homophobia (the legislators' names and photos were chosen, obviously, based on who opposes the bill). Legislators were invited to come and unlock their locks - three did, apparently.

Wang Jin-ping's presence on this wall does not surprise me. He has no conscience, and he likely doesn't think this issue is important enough that he has to use political capital to support it against the general will of his party.

Nor does it surprise me that the strong majority of those against the bill are KMT - a reactionary, conservative party who at worst actively inhibits and at best is apathetic about social reform (that wasn't always the case - a lot of advances in women's rights were passed by then-KMT-affiliated President Lee Teng-hui at the turn of the millenium). No surprise at all that if you want to overturn homophobia, you need to kick out the KMT. I can't find the source right now but will keep looking - I have read that about 4/5 of KMT legislators don't support the bill, whereas 4/5 of the DPP do.

What does surprise me is that it seems Hsiao Bhi-khim's name is on there. Brendan and I both thought of her as an American-style progressive - I can't imagine what's going on here. If someone could enlighten me I'd appreciate it.

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Also, no rally is complete without a dog wearing a funny ribbon, sticker or outfit.

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I would love this Pride flag superimposed with Taiwan if they hadn't included the "Taiwanese" (read: ROC) flag - I don't care for it and its KMT associations, especially as the KMT is the main reason the bill has not yet been passed.

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Pan-green sentiments, such as Taiwanese independence, and LGBT rights tend to go hand-in-hand in Taiwan.

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I have this water bottle that I take to all the protests, which serves as a repository for the stickers they give out. The Chinese for the marriage equality one says "homophobia is unconstitutional". I'm not sure if that's strictly true, but that's not the point. (I'm also a fan of "I don't need sex because President Ma fucks me every day!", which is on the lower left).

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"A divorced Christian could marry a virgin - why can't a gay person?"

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I don't get this one - "even the unmarried queens all marry"?

The smaller sign says, I think, 需要恢復的是我們結婚的權利 or "the need to resume (the passage of the bill, I guess) "is our right to marry".

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More pan-green (and to be fair, pan-blue, but mostly for political convenience) sentiments intertwined with pride. This sign says that she hopes for real democracy in Hong Kong, and that we can have universal marriage rights in Taiwan.

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Has anyone else seen the Musical China Douchemobile?

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For those who can't read Chinese, it says "Long Live China: We are all one family".

Seriously, who are these guys? Who do they work for? Why are they doing this? They drive around with pro-unification crap on their cars - which would be their right, I suppose, except they also blare traditional Chinese music. A genre I generally like, but not when it's screaming out of low-quality loudspeakers on Zhongxiao East Road.

I've seen this guy at Zhongxiao Dunhua, and I think the same guy in Ximen driving down Chengdu Road. Then one passed my apartment - a red car this time - downtown.

I know the authorities won't do anything - and I'm not even sure they should, as even douchebags have the right to their slimy douchewater opinions, I guess, although the arguments they put forward aren't enough to convince me that they've passed this 'entitled to one's opinion' test - although it would be nice if they told them to cut it out with the loudspeakers. Fat chance of that happening, when soon the streets will be taken over by annoying election trucks, also blaring crap from loudspeakers. (I admit I like the election drum lines pulled along by trucks - that's kind of cool. But not the loudspeakers).

And I am pretty happy to report that they seem to be having zero effect - in fact, their irritating noise pollution, if anything, is causing people to be less open to their crappy Beijing shill Chinese chauvinist cause. Mostly when they drove by I noticed locals rolling their eyes or cracking quiet jokes about the losers in cars.

These folks, who are trying so hard to force us all to fall in line with their fifty-cent "opinions" (likely bought and paid for, but possibly not, some people believe this stuff of their own volition) are just showing how badly they are losing, too: absolutely nobody on the street pays them any mind beyond those eyerolls.

When an idea causes outrage, it is probably a dangerous idea: that can be both good and bad. Dangerous in that there is actually a potential it will take root (again, that can be good or bad) and go somewhere, change something.

This is not a dangerous idea. It is not taking root.

They can drive around in cars all they want, huffily insisting that Taiwanese ought not to have an identity of their own - let alone a national identity - and that as good obedient little slaves they shoudl submit to Beijing's black hole-like gravitational pull. But that won't change the truth on the ground: there is a Taiwanese identity, and it's not going away. Taiwan is, as much as ever, not interested in being annexed, and even those who think of themselves as Chinese also think of themselves as Taiwanese - and in fact, as Taiwanese first.

That still leaves the initial questions unanswered, however. Who do they work for? Why are they doing this?

Anyone?

Or am I the only one who's seen the Douchemobile, and it's all a sick fever dream?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Five reasons why Hong Kong is in the international news, while the Sunflowers were ignored

It's unfortunate, as the Sunflowers were a newsworthy movement that deserved international press coverage, and mostly didn't get it. Those who did cover it filled up their stories with tripe, or their editors did (and I feel bad saying that as I have several journalist friends, but it's true). Everything from the 3/30 protest being "100,000" people as reported by the government (a lie - I was there, I can tell you it was more than that. I know what a 200,000 person protest feels like, and this was about double that) to the usual line about history that is completely false, e.g. "Taiwan and China separated in 1949..." (NO THEY DIDN'T. They separated in 1895, Taiwan was independent for much of that year, though unrecognized as such, and even before that Chinese control of Taiwan was weak. And only official for about 200 years, not "thousands of years" or "since antiquity"). Or they reported the KMT propaganda about why the protest was controversial. Or, continuously reporting that the Taiwanese people are opposed to "reunification", which can't be true because there is no such thing. The PRC and ROC were never unified, so they can't be 'reunified'. Little coverage, less truth.

To the point where one might think it was an intentional brownout. It pissed me off then and it pisses me off now.

But I do see why the Umbrella Revolution is getting more press coverage. Simply put:

  • Hong Kong is fighting against actual dictatorship. The Sunflowers didn't want to change the government, which is already democratic and about as free as democracies get. They wanted to accomplish one specific task. 
  • The Sunflowers' main issues were (and are) more complex than democracy vs. dictatorship. That's simple. People understand democracy vs. dictatorship. "Well, there's this trade pact, but it's more than a trade pact, to really understand its origins you have to look back at the Ma administration's previous term and the implementation of ECFA as well as competing ROC/Taiwan identity ideologies and a feeling of increasing government paternalism and authoritarianism, and helplessness. And, it probably won't be good for Taiwan, as ECFA wasn't, but that's not the real reason we're protesting..." - it's more complicated. I understand, but you'd be surprised how many people just don't get it.
  • Hong Kong  is simply more famous and more international, with more business going through it than Taipei. Plain and simple. 
  • The Hong Kong protests actually shut down the city, or at least the downtown part of it. Taipei was never fully shut down - only the legislature. I worked normally through it and went in the evenings to lend my support (I did and still do support the Sunflowers 100%). 
  • The Sunflowers had the CCP and KMT propaganda machines working against them, after years of China successfully disseminating propaganda that convinced people to basically ignore Taiwan. HK has only CCP propaganda going against it, and they were never 'ignored' the way Taiwan has been for years. And why has Taiwan been ignored? Some very famous brands come out of Taiwan, and a lot of the factories that pump out our consumer crap in China are headed by corporate offices in Taiwan. There's no good reason for it to be so off the radar - it was intentionally done, through careful Chinese maneuvering. 
It sucks and I hate it.

But that's why it's happening. I don't think it's any more complicated than this (and this is already fairly complicated). 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Confucius and the Department Store

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It just so happens that I wrote this while listening to this.

Two weeks ago, a confluence of things happened.

First, I planned and executed a Mid-Autumn Festival barbecue near my apartment, which doubled as my birthday party because I knew I wouldn't have the energy, what with Delta Module 3 going on, to hold two parties in one month.

We hadn't noticed the sign that had been posted in our building, as there are a lot of notices and things that are usually irrelevant. So on the day of the party, we were upset to find out that maybe we should have read that notice after all: no barbecuing would be allowed in the main courtyard areas around where we live (which are perfect for barbecuing). The reason was not clear but usually it has to do with "smell and noise".

Two years ago, you could barbecue anywhere in this area. We barbecued in the small courtyard just outside our apartment. Then the next year, that was prohibited and you could only barbecue in the large courtyard further out. This year, they prohibited that too and we were only allowed to barbecue in a small, dark little area down by the wet market, and policemen constantly rode by on bikes making sure we adhered to that rule (this was the first year there was a police presence).

I can't help but feel that it's a slow, systematic attempt to ban barbecuing on Moon Festival in all urban areas, but to do it slowly enough that people don't complain much.

Then, I had a discussion on Facebook with Alexander Synaptic about this fascinating blog post of his about old "entertainment centers" in towns and cities in Taiwan. It's a coincidence, but a telling one, that he entitled it "Dreams of Empire". There's one in Sanchong that functions mostly as a string of pool halls rife with gangsters, and a closed-down one in Zhanghua.

I noted that while until recently, street-level commercial activity and entertainment was mostly-happily tolerated by local residents, and a proliferation of night markets and other "re nao" (fun) spots were allowed to thrive, which has given Taipei, at least, a sort of vibrant street life and sidewalk scene that Beijing and other cities in China are lacking - and which is a part of what makes Taipei a great place to live - that there seems to have been a culture shift.

This happened around the time that Brendan and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. We had wanted to go to Opa! Greek Taverna, which has hands-down the best Mediterranean food in Taipei (Sababa is good for falafel, but I make better hummus). Turns out their old street-level restaurant near Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall was closed, and they'll be re-opening in ATT 4 Fun at the end of the month.

Those old entertainment halls are now closed, but they're being replaced by glass monstrosities like ATT 4 Fun. Night markets (like Shi-da or Shilin) are being shut down (except for a few boring "fashion" and cell phone cover stores) or the food stalls relocated to indoor areas, which drastically reduces their appeal. Streetscapes are ruined as giant granite obelisks of luxury housing go up, leaving no room for shops or comfortable passage for pedestrians. Trees are torn down as a huge event arena is built - nothing wrong with Taipei Dome but those trees were a part of the street scape and we loved them. Restaurants are relocating to department stores. Street-level storefront rent is skyrocketing and only chain businesses can afford them, so interesting local spots are being crowded out. As ornery residents start complaining - which they didn't seem to do before - everything that was fun in some neighborhoods is either being shut down, or moving and often they end up in ATT 4 Fun or the equivalent.

Rather than go to Chun Shui Tang (which I know has been implicated in the recent gutter oil scandal) in one of their well-decorated branches which create street-level visual interest, I basically have to go to Chun Shui Tang inside Shinkong Mitsukoshi. One of my favorite Indian restaurants, Calcutta Indian Food, moved from a street-level shop on an interesting stretch of Kunming Street to a basement-level restaurant in a somewhat grody building called "U2". All the good places are slowly moving indoors, but the indoor spaces are expanding: walk underground from City Hall MRT through the basement of Hankyu Department Store to Eslite Xinyi, and it's a veritable food festival of eating options. All indoors. In the basement, even. Outdoors, you'd have to walk for awhile to find something decent to eat.

I don't care for this at all - and as a Taipei resident, I do believe that counts for something.

If I wanted to live in a city with dead streets, where you walked between huge edifices, some new and marbled, some old and marbled in a different way, and cars whizzed by on the road, and I had to walk inside some concrete magnate's wet dream just to eat dinner at a restaurant I like, which is no longer within walking distance because they couldn't afford the rent, I would live in Beijing.

I don't live in Beijing, because Beijing sucks. I do not fancy walking a mile along a sidewalk flanked by a wall and a six-lane highway, with one overhead crosswalk every mile, and big empty spaces dotted with steel monoliths that spear the pollution floating overhead, where people hustle in and out of sliding doors into slightly less polluted air conditioned buildings to eat, drink and shop. Beijing is one of the worst models possible for urban planning.

And I don't want Taipei to become just like it.

I feel like all of this is related. There seems to have been a spike in old-school, stick-up-the-butt Confucian values, more influence from China (which has a distinctly different culture from Taiwan, and to Taiwanese or those used to Taiwanese culture can seem a bit stick-up-the-butt although I realize it's not always), and increasingly authoritarian leaders telling the public to basically go screw themselves. To the point where I wonder, as Letters from Taiwan implies, if the recent deaths - I believe that's a plural deaths too - of various high-profile Sunflower activists were, ahem, accidents. It would not surprise me at all if the government, taking its cues from China as it tries to force the Taiwanese to accept the idea of eventual Chinese rule, decided to off them. People complain about noise and smell on the streets, and the city slowly morphs into Beijing's stepsister (I'd say ugly stepsister, but it's hard to get uglier than Beijing).

I feel it's related to the increase in gang activity - White Wolf not only allowed to return to Taiwan but to rub shoulders with Ma Ying-jiu's sisters. A gang fight resulting in the death of an off-duty policeman which raises many questions about what exactly he was involved in (it's fairly well-known that the police let the gangs run the clubs in exchange for kickbacks). The subsequent inevitable closing down of Taipei nightlife (so it can reopen later, under the protection of newly-strong gangs who give the police better kickbacks). I won't even get into what happens if you cross a gangster in a KTV.

Some other gangsters, deeply entwined in real estate development, convince local politicians to ignore laws about having to provide "green space" for every building they erect in exchange for letting those politicians buy units in the buildings before they go on sale. The politicians can later sell those units at substantial markups. This is all perfectly legal. And we allow it, because they are Our Leaders.

We like to think that the heyday of gang violence in Taiwan was the '80s and '90s, but it wasn't. It's as bad now as it was then, only now we have "democratic" leaders acting like dictators telling us they'll do something about it, when clearly they won't. They'll shut down a few nightclubs, but nobody really important will face punishment.

Increasingly authoritarian "leaders" leaning both on the Confucian ideas regarding the masses doing what they say, inextricably intertwined with gang activity, huge corporations and development companies tearing down the city (and quite possibly encouraging "citizen complaints" about noise and smell from restaurants, night markets and even barbecuing, which is a Mid-Autumn festival activity associated mostly with Taiwan) in order to rebuild it in China's image.

I do not think this is deliberate. Nobody is sitting behind a desk going "mwahahahaha, let's make Taipei look more like a Chinese city, so the Taiwanese will accept annexation by China! Bwahahaha! My evil plan!" I know to imply that these events are deliberately connected is only a few steps shy of donning a tinfoil hat. My point is that the mood in Taipei has changed, and not for the better. And that these issues are all effects of that - the slow migration of street life to department stores, the budding New Confucianism in which we are all told to follow the rules, the increase in gang activity, the increasingly authoritarian government that is quietly trying to push Taiwan towards China and a future the majority of people do not want but many feel powerless to stop.

There has been a culture shift, and it's starting to really be felt.

So, to me, they are related even if not intentionally so. The same overly conservative, regulation-loving Neo-Confucian "follow the rules, do as we say" ideas that brought us the tragedy that is the KMT and President Ma have also brought us the steady department store-ification of Taipei. It's a whole culture shift, even if it is not deliberate.

I still think Taipei has gotten a lot right in terms of urban planning, and I hope that this is a temporary phase.

Sadly, I fear it's not.

Everybody shut up, everybody shop here, don't protest or your motorcycle will suddenly go off the highway outside Pinglin. You just don't understand because you don't know 'correct values' and you need it explained to you like you're four years old. Listen to your leaders! Confucius said so! Buy these items produced by our good friends at Uni-President who swear they didn't know about the gutter oil, in a building they built, so they can profit more. They need profit. They need to make sure the politicians and police get their cut, you know, so they need it. Stop shopping near your home in stores that line your sidewalks. We have air-conditioning, and your favorite shop is here! We're not in bed with both gangs and politicians, and real estate developers hell bent on driving out every bit of soul this city has! You don't like those street-level shops anyway, you would rather it be like this. Come on, lay down, calm down, it'll hurt less that way. You know you want it. Listen to us. We are your leaders. Confucius says that the emperor is above the people. We are above you. And we are Chinese. Therefore, so are you. You must identify as Chinese. This poll said that you do.

There's no reason to muddy the waters like this. We are all Chinese. We don't like noise on the street. We do like strong leaders and air conditioning. We want our residential areas quiet and our entertainment to be safely contained, in a building built by someone rich and powerful, in another part of the city. We like it to be clear. Don't you hate these blurred lines?